Fox News host Sean Hannity has threatened to sue New York Times columnists Ben Smith, Kara Swisher, and Gina Bellafante, all of whom have been sharply critical of his efforts to downplay and misrepresent the coronavirus pandemic to viewers.
But on Wednesday, writing for Law & Crime, Elura Nanos said that the odds he would actually follow through with such a lawsuit are nearly nonexistent — and that if he did, it would be certain to fail.
"On April 18, the Times published a story entitled 'A Beloved Bar Owner Was Skeptical About the Virus. Then He Took A Cruise,'" wrote Nanos. "It told the tale of Joe Joyce, an otherwise healthy 74-year-old man who discounted the advice of his adult children to take coronavirus seriously based — allegedly, at least in part — on having watched Fox’s coverage. Believing there was nothing to fear, Joyce cruised to Spain, contracted coronavirus, and died from the virus. According to the article, Joyce’s family contends that he might have taken warnings more seriously if not for Fox’s minimization of the public health risks."
"The Times piece must have made Sean Hannity squirm a bit, because he hired Charles Harder (of Gawker and Trump fame) to threaten the Times with a lawsuit unless it retracted and apologized for the Joyce story," wrote Nanos, noting the Times has said they have no intention of doing so.
"A defamation claim requires a 'false statement of fact' which caused Hannity 'actual damages,'" wrote Nanos. "Plus, because Hannity is clearly a public figure, he would need to prove that the Times acted with 'actual malice' when publishing those false statements – which is a high legal bar. Hannity would need to prove that the Times actually knew that the Joe Joyce piece contained falsehoods and that it published the piece with reckless disregard for the truth or falsity of those statements."
"For starters, the Times piece mentions Sean Hannity solely to say that Joe Joyce watched Hannity’s coverage of coronavirus on Fox and was influenced by that coverage. Hannity’s characterization that the Times accused him of 'murder' is hyperbolic," wrote Nanos. "The bigger problem here is that defamation claims require a specific statement of purported fact about Hannity that is false ... there simply was no false statement of fact about Hannity published by the Times. The timeline — what Joyce watched, and how it influenced him — is about Joyce — not about Hannity."
Finally, Nanos wrote, "On the issue of damages, Hannity would need to prove that he lost money because of the Times article. This would require him to invent a hypothetical world in which a loyal Fox viewer read the Times piece, believed Hannity to be responsible for Joyce’s death, and on that basis, stopped watching Hannity’s program. I think we can safely file that under this folder: 'not likely.'"
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